• Samantha Fecich

Kids before content: A conversation with Barbara Gruener

Friends, with me today I have an amazing guest - Barbara Gruener. Among being a coach, mentor, speaker, and author, Barbara is an educator with many years of experience teaching all grade levels K-12! Our conversation is full of laughs, advice, and amazing teaching stories. Let's get started!





Tell me about your journey into teaching and education.

Though I’ve been a teacher since I was in the first grade, I actually earned my BS degree in English and Spanish in May of 1984 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I started a Spanish Department and taught English 9 in Plainfield, WI before moving to TX to teach ESL and Spanish. In 1989, I earned my first MS, in Education with an ESL endorsement; I taught for four more years before taking a leave of absence to begin a second graduate degree. After working at the Sexual Assault Center in Seattle, WA, I decided it would be in Counseling. in 1995 I earned that 2nd MS. In 96, I got my first opportunity to be a school counselor at a HS. By the year 2000, I couldn’t shake the feeling that if kids developed more SEL skills earlier on, there wouldn’t be so much crisis intervention, so I moved from secondary to elementary, serving at a PreK-3 campus for the next 14 years. During my time there, we earned the inaugural Texas State School of Character and ultimately a National School of Character distinction. In 2015, I was transferred with my third graders to the school next door, and I finished up my career there, growing alongside students in grades 3-5.


Share a favorite teaching moment from your college days

Although there were many, I won’t ever forget my student teaching experience. I got to work with junior high students part of the morning for Spanish, then I walked next door to the HS and grew with the juniors in English class. My supervising teacher, Mark, gave me permission (and encouraged me!) to be authentic and vulnerable. His greatest lesson to me was not to sweat the small stuff. He taught me that teaching was about making decisions all day long; he taught me to give some of those decisions (like using the bathroom) back to the kids, to let them decide, to give them ownership and voice. Best advice ever and way ahead of its time; never underestimate the empowerment of voice and choice.


Please share some advice that you have for preservice teachers related to the areas of EduMagic

M: Megapixels - At the risk of sounding cliché, why be ordinary when you can be extraordinary. Think about how you want your students to remember you and your class, and do THAT! Spice up your lessons with music (ukulele anyone?), games (kids LOVE to play!), puppets? Pull out all of the stops; just the other day I had someone reach out and tell me that, after 30 years, she’s still singing Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes in Spanish because we sang it to learn body parts in my class.


A: Always be… - We are human "BE"ings, not human "DO"ings. What’s on your to-be list? How do you stay in the moment, mindfully aware, to BE the gift? THIS will change you; it’s science! One of my favorite keynotes opportunities that came my way was to fire up 700 Character Educators from all over the world in DC at the National Forum on Character Ed. I chose to give a speech called: Kindness is the REAL Global Warming. Nothing more important in your classroom than the terrific trio: empathy, compassion and kindness.


What is one piece of advice you have for preservice teachers?

First and foremost, teach kids before content because first and foremost, they are humans with a heartbeat. When I started out, I was teaching Spanish first and I missed a lot of teachable moments, times of sadness, frustration, anger, hurt, anxiety, pain (JOY even) when students needed me, a better me, a sensitive, present me, but I’d send them off with a pass to the counselor. Be in the moment, unwrapping the present with them. Content will come; in fact, the more time you spend on connection, the more time you’ll earn for direction. I promise!

Fast Five

1. Who do you recommend preservice teachers to follow on Twitter or Instagram and why?


2. What is one tech tool that you love using in your classroom?

True story, when I was in the classroom there wasn’t really any technology beyond the VHS player. If I needed a sub (Spanish subs were hard to come by), the kids would watch ET in Spanish!! As a school counselor, I used technology sparingly. I love APPs for mindfulness - Calm & Headspace.


3. What song gets you pumped to teach?

Both have a lemons into lemonade theme.

  • Try Everything by Shakira

  • Up Up Up by Rose Falcon


4. Favorite teaching accessory – what is one item that you can’t teach without? Puppets and/or my ukulele! Start with a hook like a puppet and seal the deal with a ditty or a song. Even with high school kiddos, whom I’ll always say are just little kids in big bodies. Music is a close second!!! Never let a day go by without a few notes or chords.


5. What are you currently binging on NetFlix or Hulu?

More full disclosure, I’m not on either of those. However, I am going to figure NetFlix out b/c of the Brene Brown series that’s calling my name. I’m more of a podcast/blog/book girl.

Connect with Barbara
Contest time!

To win a signed copy of EduMagic and a signed copy of What's Under Your Cape - just follow these 3 steps! The contest closes on June 30th at 11:59 EST! Best of luck EduMagicians!

  1. Follow @Sfecich & @BarbaraGruener on Twitter.

  2. Post your favorite takeaway from our conversation.

  3. Tag @Sfecich & @BarbaraGruener in the post and add #Whatsunderyourcape and #EduMagic too!

Remember friends, you have the EduMagic in YOU!

#EduMagic #Whatsunderyourcape #education #preserviceteacher #podcastedu

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